Sunday, November 1, 2015

Newark, 'civility' & ed 'reform'

StudentsFirst co-founder, Dmitri Mehlhorn, has been engaged in a charter school debate with Jersey Jazzman for the past few weeks. As I read one of Mehlhorn's responses, I clicked on a link that led me down an Internet rabbit hole and into my own response to one of his blog posts about civility in the ed 'reform' debate. That led to Mehlhorn's response via a set of tweets. 

It's taken me a while to respond, but I don't believe in coincidence. So it was no coincidence that last week I attended a Newark Advisory Board meeting, which became the perfect starting point for my response. 

This is Part 1.


When people are subjected to years of abuse, they generally respond in one of two ways:

  1. Cower in fear, close up, shut down, go inside
  2. Get loud, aggressive, defiant, act out
The students and parents at the October 26th Newark Advisory Board meeting definitely fell into the second category. Having been under state control for the last 20 years—the last 6 under the unholy triumverate of Christie/Cami/Cerf—they have had little to no say in how their public schools are run. And right now, they're being run into the ground.

Under Gov. Christie, charter school expansion has ballooned and NJ's public school system, one of the most equitably funded in the nation, has been underfunded to the tune of over $7 billion...

Source: Education Law Center

While corporate tax breaks welfare has soared to... guess how much? You got it, over $7 billion! 

Coincidence? I think not.

Newark's school budget has also been hit with a one-two punch: budget cuts and $225 million diverted to charter schools. 

Instead of doing anything to fix poverty—a proven factor in a child's ability to learn— the ed 'reform' zeitgeist says the teachers are to blame, so we should give children who are 'stuck in failing schools' choice, then there will be better educational outcomes for all. Except that's just not the case because choice is not for all; it's only for those who are lucky enough to win the charter school lottery. 

So those in Newark who are being denied the choice of their neighborhood public school have been loud and angry because no one is listening to them. That's what normally happens when one isn't being heard. Whether a one-on-one conversation or a geopolitical debate, when one side isn't being heard, they tend to get louder and louder until FINALLY THEY ARE HEARD! The protest rally before the start of the meeting was one in a long list of actions aimed at being heard. Parents and students who are being denied their choice of a quality education are enraged because, first Cami, and now Cerf is starving them to death. Their schools of choice are, as parent advocate Donna Jackson said, "crumbling, while the charters get all the bells and whistles." How is that choice? How is that good for students? 

The Newark Students Union, which has largely led the revolt against the state-sponsored apartheid, quite literally took over the meeting. After staging a rally outside the venue and marching in under a banner that read "Full Local Control", they rushed the stage and demanded Cerf's resignation. They roused the already charged audience to chants of "Cerf's gotta go!" and stood in front of the stage holding the banner the rest of the night. Spontaneous demonstrations interspersed with pop-up arguments between public and charter school parents left what little control the board had over the proceedings in tatters. 

During the public address portion, parents and students didn't hold back. Why should they? Why should people who've been treated like ants at a picnic sit politely in their seats while being sprayed with Raid 'ed reform'? Why should people who are watching their beloved neighborhood schools being stripped of funds, closed and flipped to charters, their teachers let go, classes and activities cut, buildings left to collapse from neglect while the charters get all the 'shiny new' sit there and take it? 

One speaker after another complained about how disastrous conditions in many of Newark's public schools have become:

One speaker told the board that, because of the complete dysfunction that is One Newark, a third grader is still not enrolled in school. How is this good for all students? How is this 'raising the bar'? How is this more 'rigorous'?

It takes a special kind of cold heartedness to sit and listen to the cries of parents and students and do nothing. Cerf's an expert.

Not one charter school parent complained. Maybe because they are getting the very best the district has to offer. Must be nice if you win the lottery.

The US has chronically underfunded public schools that are mostly in large, urban centers with high concentrations of low-income, minority citizens. What would happen if, instead of policies that bled them, those schools were infused with resources to meet the needs of their students? What would happen if every one of our 'failing' schools suddenly became true community centers that helped not only students, but their parents succeed? What would happen if every mother in those areas had access to high quality prenatal care? What if every parent had access to quality preschool, quality, affordable food and a living wage like so many who live in the mostly white suburbs? Well, maybe those 'failing schools' wouldn't be so 'failing'. But it's a lot more profitable to invest in charter schools than fix any of those other things, so why bother? 

No one writes about Newark like Bob Braun, who summed it up perfectly here and here:

State control of the Newark schools is, well, just plain nuts. Crazy. Lunatic. Insane. A case study in mass hysteria put to the service of politicians who use it to enhance their careers while avoiding their responsibility to children and bureaucrats who can make a good buck pretending the process makes sense. Where else could losers like Chris Cerf and Cami Anderson make $257,000 with bonuses and chauffeured limousines?  
[T]rying to get out of state control is a perfect example of what has come to be known as a Catch-22 and, those of you who already know what a Catch-22 is, know it is insane. This is how the Urban Dictionary defines Catch-22:
“A Catch-22 is a requirement that cannot be met until a prerequisite requirement is met; however, the prerequisite cannot be obtained until the original requirement is met. ” 
The people responsible for [the continued state control of Newark are]–you got it!–STATE APPOINTEES. State appointees led by none other than the weeping weirdo running the show, Christopher Cerf. Cerf is the state appointed superintendent, put in office by the Big Buffoon himself, Chris Christie. The state person actually responsible for this particular requirement is Vanessa Rodriguez, who has her own special title–"Chief Talent Officer.”  The school board has tried more than once to fire Rodriguez and Cerf won’t let it. 
Are you following along? The board can’t get its control back until it does what the state says. But it cannot do what the state says because the state failed to do it in the first place and is insisting on continuing to fail because it is in the best interest of the state and its high-paid appointees to fail but let the board take the blame for the failure. If Cerf continues to fail–as Cami Anderson did before him–then the board continues to be powerless and, because it is powerless, it cannot force Cerf to do anything. 
An endless loop of loopiness. 
Look, face it–it’s just nuts to go along with this Catch-22. It will allow charter schools to take over the Newark public school system and make a lot of money for a lot of people who live in places like Mendham, Montclair, and Glen Ridge. 
That should be obvious. Obvious to any sane person. (emphasis mine)

No one running the Newark school district bothers to listen to the sane people—the ones with the protest banners. Their disruption is in direct response to the disruption that the has been heaped on this city for decades. Their walk-outs, march-ins and protests are in direct response to the cone of silence Cami Anderson erected when she became superintendent. Their rage is an equal and opposite reaction to Anderson's launch of the dysfunctional, disorganized and downright disrespectful One Newark plan that continues on under Chris Cerf. 

Ed 'reformers' don't listen to those who disagree with them

I asked someone near me if this was typical of these meetings. His response, "Yea."

And they call this 'reform'.